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Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the park we’ve visited the most in the U.S., and Clingmans Dome within the park is one of our favorite places we’ve visited. Named for U. S. Senator and explorer Thomas Lanier Clingman from Ashville, North Carolina, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the park, and this mountain provides gorgeous views from 6,643 feet. Not only are the views stunning, but this outing also provided us with one of our longest in-person bear sightings in the Smokies.

Of course, you should obviously keep your distance from all wildlife. The general recommendation from authorities is to maintain a distance of 100 yards from black bears. Do not call out to wildlife to entice it to come closer, and certainly don’t offer food. And though your instinct may be to run, that is also a bad idea. Sometimes, though, you may just be hiking along a paved path in a national park, and a bear pops up on the trail. Try to remain calm. But more on that later.

Getting to Clingmans Dome From Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

If you’re staying in Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge as we did, it’s pretty easy to get to Clingmans Dome. Though the mountain is on the North Carolina side of the park, the drive is scenic and worth the time. The drive is about 23 miles and took us about an hour. In fact, the drive to Cades Cove on the Tennesse side is longer; it’s 33 miles from Gatlinburg and will take about an hour and a half one-way. Click here to read more about Cades Cove.

When heading to Clingmans Dome, simply leave Gatlinburg and head in the direction of Sugarlands Visitor Center. Follow the signing. You’ll want to take Highway 441, also known as Newfoundland Gap Road. Eventually, you’ll come to a sign directing you to Clingmans Dome Road. This will lead you to the parking lot and the beginning of the paved trail to the observation tower.

On our adventure, we left late afternoon. It was summertime, so we still had plenty of daylight. The higher we climbed in elevation, the cooler it was. You may want to bring some layers to add, even in the summer.

Along the Journey to Clingmans Dome

Newfoundland Gap Road

Along the way, there are many pullouts for various overlooks. Because of the views like the one above, they are hard to resist.

Newfoundland Gap Road

Eventually, you’ll get to the Newfoundland Gap Comfort Station and the Tennessee/North Carolina state line.

Tennessee North Carolina State Line

If you need a restroom break, this is a great stop. It’s also a great place to see more beautiful scenery in the beautiful Smoky Mountains.

Tennessee North Carolina State Line

Clingmans Dome

Not long after you cross the state line, you’ll see the sign for Clingmans Dome Road. This road almost follows the state line itself.  The road ends at the Clingmans Dome Trailhead and visitor center. In the late afternoon, we had no trouble with finding a parking spot.

Clingmans Dome Trail

The trail is paved, which is nice. It can be a little strenuous since it is going uphill, but we managed it okay. You can certainly rest as needed along the way.

As we were walking the trail, we were surprised by this black bear that stepped out of the woods! Please forgive the video. I was a little excited to see a bear, and I wasn’t a blogger at the time. We also had some bystanders standing near us and talking.

As you can see, some experienced hikers came along and made some noise so the bear would continue on its way. It’s not good for wildlife to get too used to people, but we were grateful for the opportunity to see the bear!

After the bear disappeared, we continued onward. Soon, we saw the observation tower.

Clingmans Dome Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The observation tower has a ramp that winds upward to the observation deck. It’s kind of nice that it’s not a bunch of stairs. You’re still walking uphill, though.

Once you’re at the top, the views are worth it.

Clingmans Dome Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Beauty is in every direction.

Clingmans Dome Great Smoky Mountains National Park

I could post these pictures all day.

Clingmans Dome Great Smoky Mountains National Park

It almost feels like you can see forever.

Clingmans Dome Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Simply stunning.

Clingmans Dome Great Smoky Mountains National Park

As you can see, a trip to Clingmans Dome in Smoky Mountain National Park is definitely worth it. If you’re heading to the area, this is a must-do. I hope we’ve inspired you to explore all the wonders of the Smoky Mountains!

Thinking about visiting some National Parks? Click below for some of our other adventures!

Arches National Park

Badlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park: Island in the Sky

Petrified Forest National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park: Trail Ridge Road

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Cades Cove

Clingmans Dome Great Smoky Mountains National Park
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  1. It’s always thrilling to see wildlife! That bear didn’t seem nervous around people at all. Our family visited Clingman’s Dome a few years ago. Such a cool place!

  2. Wow! What amazing views! Looks like an awesome trail to hike with kids!

  3. Awww! This is amazing! Always wanted to visit The Great Smoky Mountains, but after seeing this bear footage, I know I have to plan this trip soon! Looks beautiful, and the bear is adorable! 🙂

  4. Cindy Moore Reply

    Wow what an experience! I’ll be in Gatlinburg this fall or next spring. I can wait. It’s so beautiful in that area.

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